Nick Jonas opens Careful What You Wish For with a monologue about growing up and leaving the naiveté of childhood behind. It’s a somewhat appropriate meta-commentary on the teen idol’s transition into serious acting; a subtle nod to a Disney-cultivated child star taking his first crack as the leading man in a feature film. As a vehicle of Jonas, this film demonstrates that he may have more of a future in cinema than one might expect. As a piece of cinematic entertainment, however, it’s hard to imagine anything more mediocre.
Jonas steps into the role of Doug, a teenage boy who is spending the summer with his parents at their cabin getaway. Across the way some new neighbors have moved in: Elliot (Dermot Mulroney), a rich businessman, and Lena (Isabel Lucas), his young, attractive trophy wife. Doug becomes sexually fascinated with Lena, who surprisingly returns Doug’s affections and instigates an affair with Doug behind her physically abusive husband’s back. As Doug becomes more involved with Lena, the two take greater risks of getting caught, and tensions rise as Elliot begins to suspect the affair.
The film attempts a Hitchcockian plot of dishonesty as the groundwork for drama, and that would fall apart if not held together by the lead players. Lucas is perhaps a bit too transparent in how she telegraphs Lena’s thought processes, but she’s a competent enough actress to pull off the plight of the victim of an abusive relationship with some authenticity. Mulroney, on the other hand, is committed to his role as the simmeringly angry, eternally suspicious Elliot, easily making his the best performance of the film. Jonas, however, is the surprise breakout of Careful, though that may be because director Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum seems to have wanted a very naturalistic portrayal of a teenage boy, so any awkwardness in Jonas’ delivery or body work is built into his character. It’s not a prophetic performance by any means, but it’s enough to show that, given time and practice, Jonas could build a solid acting career for himself.
If only the rest of the film retained that much promise over the course of its modest ninety-minute runtime. The performances are worthwhile enough for the first half to feel engaging, but a major twist at the midway point makes too many pieces of the narrative fall into place way too quickly, so the rest of the film becomes a predictable slog and all tension fizzles away. It’s the kind of story where merely being exposed to the popular culture of the last century is enough to guess the inevitable conclusion in broad enough strokes that any turns taken along the way hardly matter. With the exception of a final twist at the very end, nothing about any of the plot beats feels novel or surprising, and that final moment doesn’t recontextualize previous events enough to leave that much of an impact.
However, the decent performances are enough of a saving grace that Careful What You Wish For isn’t a complete wash. You just shouldn’t expect to be surprised by anything except Nick Jonas’ ability to carry a leading role. Only time will tell if he has enough talent to deliver on this film’s promise.